Coping With Suicidal Thoughts

Suicidal Thoughts:

According to research published in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) newsletter (September/October 2009, Volume 17, Number 5) suicidal thoughts affect a wide variety of people across many age groups. Substance use disorders were associated with a higher risk of seriously considering, planning, or attempting suicide (inhibition and impulse control are lowered, decision making is impaired, mind is altered).

Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors in the Past Year among Adults, by Age Group: 2008

Source: SAMHSA Office of Applied Studies (September 17, 2009). Figure 1. The NSDUH Report: Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors among Adults. Rockville, MD.


Risk Factors for Suicide

Based on information published by the National Institute of Mental Health, rresearch shows that risk factors for suicide include:

  • Depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse disorder (often in combination with other mental disorders). More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have these risk factors.
  • Prior suicide attempt
  • Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Firearms in the home (the method used in more than half of suicides)
  • Incarceration
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others, such as family members, peers, or media figures.

However, suicide and suicidal behavior are not normal responses to stress; many people have these risk factors, but are not suicidal. Research also shows that the risk for suicide is associated with changes in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, including serotonin.

If you are in a crisis and need help right away:

Call this toll-free number, available 24 hours a day, every day: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a service available to anyone. You may call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are confidential.


Coping with Suicidal Thoughts:

When emotional stress and pain become overwhelming and a person becomes hopeless, suicidal thoughts often increase. Often, emotional pain becomes so intolerable, that people believe they are left with few options but suicide.

Suicidal thoughts can be very confusing and scary for an individual. For some people, suicide may be a way of getting back at others, or for showing them how much pain they are in. However, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and over 90 % of people who survive a potentially lethal suicide attempt, do not go on to kill themselves.

Considering suicide is a temporary crisis and an attempt to stop the inner pain. However, feelings and thoughts will pass. Depression often feels permanent, but it is really transient. Things do change and life is full of changes so depression comes and it goes.

Depression and pain distort our thinking. It can seem like you are wearing very dark tinted ‘gloomy glasses’.  Everything looks different than how it really is. Thoughts are thoughts – not necessarily how things are, although it certainly feels like the thoughts are true.  Thoughts affect the way we feel, and thoughts and feelings affect the way we react, what we do.


Suicidal thoughts can result when we experience too much pain, without having enough resources to cope.

We therefore have two ways to get us through this horrible time:

  1. Reduce our pain
  1. Increase our coping resources

Reduce the Pain


  • Do something that will help you feel better, right now
  • Perhaps collect items into an emergency bag or box that you can turn to
  • Use all five senses to find things that will soothe you


Focus your attention on looking at something nice, nature, a painting, watching a favorite program or movie


Listen to a favorite piece of music, sounds of nature, sing


Really notice smells – favorite soap, food, essential oil


Use sensation of taste to focus your attention.  Eat mindfully – savoring each moment


Wear soft comforting socks, stroke a pet, give yourself a hand massage

Use your 5 senses:


   5 things I can see


   4 things I can hear


   3 things I can touch


   2 things I can smell or taste


   1 breath.  Then continue to just notice your breathing, and   the sensations of breathing in your body – in your nose, throat,  abdomen

Avoid drugs and alcohol

  • While it seems like they help for a while, they will make your problems worse.

Ask yourself:

  • Are these thoughts facts or my opinion?
  • What has helped me feel better in the past?
  • What can I do right now that will help me feel better?
  • What gives my life meaning?  What are my goals, dreams or life values?  E.g. Family, friends, pets, helping others, faith, spirituality, community life, connecting with nature.

Tell yourself:

  • I’ve coped this far, I can get through the next …. (day, hour, 10 minutes)
  • Things will look better in time.
  • Depression is temporary – this will pass.
  • Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
  • Depression is distorting my thinking – these thoughts are the voice of depression.  They are not facts.  I don’t have to act on them.
  • The vast majority of people get better from depression.  I will look back and be pleased that I chose to live.

Write things down

  • Create a Safety Plan and Safety Plan Pocket Cards for yourself so that you know what to do and whom to call when you need them.
  • Make a plan for ways to deal with negative thoughts
  • Create a Crisis Management Plan for yourself

Increase Coping Resources – Immediate Steps

Take one step at a time

  • Take things a little at a time.  Set out to get through the next day, the next week or month, perhaps the next hour or even less.  Tell yourself:  “I’ve got through so far, I can get through the next hour”.


  • Do something else, and focus your attention fully on what you’re doing, e.g.
  • Gardening
  • Household chores
  • Physical exercise – walk, run, cycle, dance
  • Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique)
  • Reading – magazine, self-help book
  • Television
  • Seek out a supportive discussion forum on the internet
  • Learn something new on the internet
  • Pleasant imagery
  • Help someone else
  • Go to the park, the beach – pay attention to nature
  • Visit someone
  • Music
  • Stroke a pet
  • DIY crafts and projects
  • Feed the birds
  • Sudoku or crossword
  • Do something creative:  painting, writing, knitting, play a musical instrument, make a collage, bake a cake, cook a meal, arrange some flowers, make a website or blog
  • Thought Stopping Techniques

Talk to someone – now!

  • A friend or family member
  • A telephone helpline
  • A health professional
  • Go somewhere you’ll feel safe – be with other people
  • Go to the local Accident & Emergency department
  • Call the local emergency number

Increase Coping Resources – Longer Term Steps

Take action!

  • We can only change our situations by changing something about the way we think, or what we do

Plan activity and routine

  • Increase your activity
  • Get into a daily routine and stick with it – get up at the same time each day, go to bed at the same time, plan an activity each morning, afternoon and evening
  • Schedule in activities which help you:  Work, rest and play
  • Do things you enjoy, or used to enjoy, or you think you might enjoy:  Nourishing vs Depleting Activities
  • Set realistic goals
  • Write it down:  Weekly Planner, Activity Diary or Journal writing, etc.

Look After Yourself

  • Eat healthily, balance sleep, treat physical or mental health problems, avoid drugs and alcohol, get regular exercise

Systematically work through a problem

  • Write out your problems and systematically work through them on paper to create a plan to solve them.
  • Get help from an appropriate person or agency

Maintain or improve relationships

  • Connect and be with others
  • Call, text, email – friends or family
  • Create new contacts – join a local support group or an online discussion forum
  • Repair relationships

Lower your expectations

  • Sometimes life can feel like we’re struggling to drive or cycle up a long and steep hill, in top gear.  The motor just can’t get us there.  It works really hard, but it’s impossible to get up that steep hill in top gear.  We need to change down a gear or two.  Changing down gives the motor more torque, and is much better able to drive those wheels up that hill, albeit a bit slower.
  • We often try to struggle on in top gear, expecting so much of ourselves, of others, of life itself.  Sometimes we need to change down a gear.  Slow it down, reduce the struggle.  Carry on, but in a lower gear.
  • Pace yourself and plan activities so that you don’t get overwhelmed.